Former Parliamentary Candidate Kristy Adams, writes a personal account for CFID on her recent visit to South Sudan and how it changed her view about the role of UK Aid.
"Before I went to South Sudan I thought we should consider changing the 0.7% of GDP budget commitment into a fixed budget just like other departments. The suffering I witnessed in South Sudan has changed my view"
How seeing the impact of Aid in South Sudan changed my view.
I had the privilege of being invited to join Baroness Cox’s recent trip to South Sudan with her humanitarian charity. Travelling via Nairobi we arrive at Juba, it is hot and immigration takes forever and random men come and keep trying to carry off our bags, we wait for immigration documents. We meet with Baroness Cox’s partner in South Sudan social worker Benjamin and his colleague. Painful stories of corruption, desperate need for food and further horrifying details from the Blue Nile area of Sudan. Bombing of civilian communities who have also endured a flood and loss of crops have run for cover each time panes loaded with bombs fly over. Benjamin’s colleague decides he must come on the trip, to accommodate his weight we are asked to only take 15kg in luggage, left 10kg of luggage in the hotel store. One white T shirt, underwear, toothbrush/paste and the clothes I stand up in plus gifts.
From Juba, we fly to Maban in a small plane. They weigh us, our hand luggage and main luggage, its worse than weight watchers. The flight takes us north over surprisingly green terrain as well as exposed dusty sunbaked earth. The world’s longest river is beneath us, the Nile carves a path through South Sudan and looks amazing from the air. Communities of perfectly round huts are dotted through the landscape. We stop to re fuel at a remote airstrip. My once white T shirt now looks like I have been rolling around in a browny red dust. Huge helicopters labelled World Food Programme arrive, are loaded with food from lorries and depart. One helicopter eats the contents of a large lorry and it has space left for more. I am impressed, I had been concerned about rumours in the UK that aid doesn’t get through to the most vulnerable. Yet here I am in a remote location watching the smooth and efficient operation of the world food programme, and these flying giants who can land in the remotest locations where the food is needed.
In Maban we stay at the Samaritan’s Purse International compound. It is like an efficient British Army camp, water is filtered, there is a covered dining area, a team of cooks and they laugh when I tell them I am eating goat for the first time. In the UK it would be like saying, I have never eaten chicken before today. The food is tasty, next morning we visit a refugee camp, I give the children the colouring pencils and then take out the cereal bars, it is the first time that they snatch from my hand and it is hunger. I empty my bag of all the food and give it away, it is a tiny drop in the ocean and I regret not bringing more food. We leave the camp for a five hour trip along dirt tracks that take us to visit remote communities. We are in a convoy of vehicles and accompanying us is a utility vehicle with an open back full of men with guns. We squat in the fields to go to the toilet, the armed men look agitated, they prefer it when the convoy is moving. We reach a clearing with three round huts, around 60 people are waiting to see Baroness Cox, some have waited for 3 days. They dance, sing and drum to celebrate her arrival. A woman with many metal bottle tops strung onto her belt leads the dancing, she looked around 65 years old, skinny and a belly dancer. The joy in their faces is humbling, they celebrate Baroness Cox’s arrival because it means they aren’t forgotten. Her yearly trip and her position in the House of Lords are used to give them a voice in the world. We meet another 4 communities but this time there are hundreds of people, in rag like clothes, obviously hungry and some of the small children scream in fear when they see us ‘white ghosts’. At our final destination we meet with religious leaders, army generals, education and medical leaders as well as tribal leaders. Our team of 10 split into teams of two, we spend nearly 2 hours interviewing local people about their experiences of the bombings, war, impact on families. Heart breaking stories include deaths of family members, injuries, a desire to provide for themselves but an inability to plant crops because of needing to move and hide each time planes drop bombs, a flood in 2017. We leave with note books full of testimonies for Baroness Cox to communicate to the APPG on Sudan and South Sudan.
David a former leader of the nurses in the army and I visit Maban County Hospital. It is well ordered, clean with a calm atmosphere. This peace is surprising when only 4 doctors (from Kenya) and 40 auxiliary staff and nurses deliver free health care to 230,000 refugees and 70,000 local population. Doctor Atar leads the team, we change into clean shoes to enter the hospital theatre. The theatre team are in scrubs, equipment is sterilised and the room is light and airy. Not what I expected, but the anaesthetic machine is broken and can’t be fixed, the theatre light was so small it casts a shadow when Dr Atar operates, it is more suited to small tasks like the removal of stitches. There is no machine to test blood in the hospital, the X-ray machine is broken and can’t be fixed and there are more items on the list. Dr Atar is dignified and when I ask how we could help he said, “I just want to help my patients and give the best medical care, I need working equipment to do that.” I tell him I promise nothing, but I said I would enquire when I returned to the UK about the possibility of funding. Maban Hospital serves so many refugees, to me it is a ‘no brainer’ to equip this hospital with the resources it needs. Little did I know at this stage that it would take weeks to find out how to resource equipment, procure quotes, work out transportation logistics from Uganda and UK. Rumours abound of the South Sudanese government either refusing to allow equipment into the country or stealing it, to not consider this factor would be naïve yet not trying to find a solution lacks hope. This hospital is an excellent facility that is well run and supplies the needs of 230,000 vulnerable people in camps and rural areas. Finding companies that would operate in South Sudan was the first challenge. I completed a report of our trip, sidled up to Africa minister Harriet Baldwin MP at an unrelated meeting and asked her if it was possible to apply for funds. Her team are looking into it, she asked what my company/organisation did, she looked a little surprised when I said my company designed architectural plans for builders. But it is the perfect training for project planning and resourcing!
On the second half of our trip we are flown in a small plane to the remote town of Wau, on the air strip an Arch Bishop, a Bishop and other clergy greet us. We file out of the plane following Baroness Cox, delighted faces greet her. These are long standing friendships built over 25 years of visits to Wau. As we arrive in dusty travel worn clothes we are told we are to visit the Governor of Wau. Baroness Cox looks un ruffled the rest of us look like we have been rolling around in dust with crinkled clothes. We arrive to a majestic African governor and a number of officials including two women who look magnificent in bright printed dresses and heads wrapped in matching material. They welcomed us and were gracious about the state of our clothes after hours of travel.
The Diocese of Wau have built a school, college, churches and sheltered refugees in their thousands in an emergency. I meet a computer lecturer with only a small number of computers, with 150 pupils. I commit to trying to find a computer company to donate laptops, this week one agreed to supply some and I am waiting on another company to respond. The challenge of delivering them to Wau has been solved by the UK Diocese of Poole who have agreed to transport them. As BA from the ‘A’ Team would say ‘ I love it when a plan comes together’. The following day we meet Wau leaders from the army, university, church and political representatives. We discuss strategy and solutions for peace, their ideas are well thought out, I add them into my report for the APPG.
We visit Internally Displaced People Camps, families and individuals have run away from violence to survive. The camps are well organised, each camp is divided into blocks and has block leaders from their community. The camp leaders say the food rations are not enough to survive on, one bottle of oil, one ration of cereal, one ration beans to last 2 weeks. The world food programme has struggled to meet the demands of a huge number of people fleeing violence, in South Sudan alone it is an estimated 3 million people. The world food programme requires increasing finances to provide for the need. I walk away from the group and meet a woman in her 50’s carrying sticks on her head, she has only the dress she stands up in, it is torn and I remember wearing one just like it when I was 12 as a night dress. I am deeply moved by the plight of this woman and the others in the camps. They left their homes, running away with nothing, no pots and pans, no food, and on arrival at the camp they build shelters out of sticks the size of a garden shed. Whole families live in these shelters with no bedding and no protection. I ask why they don’t go to the river and use the resources of water, reeds, sap from the trees that makes a juice or pick the mangoes on the opposite bank. The answer; people go missing by the river, are raped or attacked by militia living on the other side of the bank. The UN security forces are not in this part of Wau. In the camp two teachers stand in front of a black board, they have no chalk, no books and no teaching materials. They stand and teach both adults and children, I slip into the back of the open room and sit on the floor beside the others. Children gather round staring and laughing at my skin and hair, I pull out my phone and take a selfie with them. They are ‘over the moon’ at seeing their own faces looking back from the screen. These amazing children are quick to smile and laugh, I like being around them and I’m sorry when the time comes to leave.
I felt privileged to hear the first-hand accounts of people’s lives in South Sudan. Once the fighting stops, with elections and peace this diverse and wonderful country will have a chance to feed itself, educate both children and adults and grow economically. With solar power playing a key role in energy production, its growth could be good for the environment and sustainable. I met leaders I respected and saw the money we contribute to the world food programme being transported to remote areas. Before I went to South Sudan I thought we should consider changing the 0.7% of GDP budget commitment into a fixed budget just like other departments. The suffering I witnessed in South Sudan has changed my view, these people have the clothes they stand up in and nothing else. Our 0.7% provides food, medical vaccinations, educational opportunities and humanitarian help. We should be proud to spend this money to help people who having nothing, surely that is what we would want them to do if we were in their situation.
By Kristy Adams